President Laura Chinchilla and other officials finally signed the concession contract with APM Terminals for a $1 billion container port in Moín. The signing was Tuesday.
The central government sees the project as the cornerstone for a redevelopment of the Municipalidad de Limón and a big push for Costa Rican commerce.
The project is contentious. Banana growers and the dock workers union at the current public facilities are in court seeking to have the concession agreement annulled. Banana growers do not want to pay higher fees to ship their product. Union dock workers fear for their jobs.
The Dutch firm has agreed to build the new port in stages. It will receive a 33-year concession so it can profit from its investment. After that period, the country will run the docks.
The dock workers have been prone to periodic strikes and some violence. They are likely to continue to protest this arrangement.
Transport officials noted that Costa Rica is in 132nd place of the world’s 135 major ports for infrastructure. The docks in Moîn and Limón handle 80 percent of the country’s commercial shipping.
APM Terminals is an experienced manager with ports all over the world.
The signing was made possible because a court declined to freeze the contract while the banana growers and dock workers litigate their claims that the concession is flawed.
Edwin Rodríguez, technical secretary of the Consejo Nacional de Concesiones, noted Tuesday that the competitive bidding process for the concession took 18 months.
The government expects the docks to be a moneymaker, too, with estimates of $2.2 billion in income tax and $982 million for development in the nearby communities.
The completed port is supposed to be one and a half times the size of Parque La Sabana, the former national airport.
The project is supposed to generate construction jobs in the short term and long-term employment on the docks.
What was not mentioned Tuesday was the possibility of a so-called dry canal in which large container ships are unloaded and the containers placed on rail cars for shipment to the Pacific. Costa Rica’s railway is not continuous from the Province of Limón to Turrialba, and extensive repairs would need to be made.
The Caldera docks on the Pacific also are under a concession arrangement.
The People’s Republic of China is toying with the idea of a dry canal across the northern part of Colombia. The cost to unload one ship and load another is believed to be much less than the fees charged by Panamá to use its canal.